Knights v Roosters
Ausgrid Stadium
Sunday 3pm

Newcastle are sitting at a crossroads. They are just inside the finals zone in eighth place on the ladder, but teetering due to a lousy points differential.

They now have a choice. They can become a team pushing towards the ‘fab five’ who are streeting the competition, and cement a chance to take them on in September… or they can become a side stumbling around the edge of the eight, fighting for every scrap on offer.

To be a finals side they need to win games they are expected to win – and a home match against a hapless Roosters side is one such game.

They’ll have to break a Roosters streak of six straight at the venue and atone for their loss earlier in the year in Sydney.

After taking care of Penrith last weekend they are now batting with a 6-7 record – two banked byes have pushed them into the top eight. They know they need to win at least as many games as they lose to be in the finals hunt.

They have James McManus back on the wing for this clash, pushing recently re-signed Peter Mata’utia to the bench. Joel Edwards will also start at lock for Steve Southern, with the blood nut forward joining Dan Tolar and Tyrone Roberts on a new-look extended reserves list.

If the Sydney Roosters want to get anywhere near the heights they achieved last season they have to start now. The only thing keeping them alive is the massive split between the five top teams and the rest.

The likely reality though is they are done… roasted… plucked.

But somehow, despite languishing in 14th with just four wins, they are only four competition points away from fifth place.

It means they can actually make a run – but one would hope they found some magic (non alcoholic) elixir over the recent bye weekend, because before it they were stinking up the joint.

After losing poorly to an under-strength Melbourne a fortnight ago the chooks welcome back Origin stars Mitchell Pearce, Anthony Minichiello and Nate Myles as well as Kiwi internationals Sam Perrett and Shaun Kenny-Dowall from injury.

Todd Carney moves back to five-eighth, Braith Anasta goes to second row, Frank-Paul Nuuausala moves from prop to lock and Rhys Pritchard, Francis Vaiotu, Willie Mataka, Tinirau Arona and Brad Takairangi are gone.

Tom Symonds, Mose Masoe and Aidan Guerra revert to the bench and hooker Mark Riddell is also missing after retiring over the bye weekend.

Watch Out Knights: He was the star in the Round 11 fixture won 12-10 by the Roosters and with extra confidence after sealing the New South Wales win in Origin II, fullback Anthony Minichiello becomes a must-watch man for the Knights. His try at the Sydney Football Stadium was vintage Mini, supporting up the inside and slicing past slow, lateral-moving forwards when the ball was turned inside. It was a Roosters-record 104th try and was his 12th try from 17 matches against the Knights. (NRL stats report he has scored in each of his past six meetings against the Knights and has won 11 of 17, including eight of the past 10).

Danger Sign: It’s the Mini-up-the-middle play that is the most dangerous. The beauty of it is Minichiello’s acceleration. He appears to be just hanging out the back of play, not involved and then… bang! He’ll take off and will be ready should Pearce or Carney shape outside but go back inside. By the time a prop has reacted, it is too late.

Watch Out Roosters: In order to have a decent crack at the Knights the Roosters need to get good field position but if things stay similar to the way they have gone so far this season they might be up against it.

The Knights are averaging 1358 metres across the ground each game, while the Roosters are making just 1253 metres. This shortfall could be the difference between two or three more attacking raids – and considering they aren’t making the most of the chances they have received, getting fewer cracks at advancing isn’t great.

A lack of territory from kicks should also worry the Roosters. Newcastle are booting 609 metres a game, the Roosters 504 metres.

When they were good the Roosters could score from anywhere… but this season they’re not good at all.  

Danger Sign: Kurt Gidley hasn’t been a dominant kicker in his side for quite some time but he managed to pump out 534 metres worth against the Panthers. It’s one thing for the Roosters to put pressure on the new kid Ryan Stig, but Gidley is a freak who can do it all. If the Roosters let him dictate where to put the ball they’ll struggle uphill all afternoon.

Plays To Watch: Ryan Stig’s left-foot step; Wes Naiqama attacking the ball from the back; Akuila Uate’s powerful tackle busts (he made 16 last week); Braith Anasta hitting fringe at close range; SKD’s in-and-away.

Where It Will Be Won: Desire. We’re sure when you hear that you must be thinking, ‘yeah right’. But the reality is in the modern era, every NRL team is good enough to beat the next, so if you aren’t in the game 100 per cent mentally, you aren’t going to win.

The simple questions to be answered heading into this match-up are: Do the Roosters have any desire left to want to fight? Do they want to be a finals team, or are they just mired in mediocrity and can’t be bothered doing the hard yards to get themselves out of their funk?

Take a look at the three top sides. Melbourne, the Dragons and Manly are blitzing it, based on gritty defence. They strangle you first, get the field position and then roll you over and spank you senseless. The Roosters have to be prepared to grind, otherwise they might as well stay at home.

Desire applies for the Knights also – they need to have the desire to want to be better… the desire to prove they can cover for the loss of Mullen… the desire to make the finals after missing out last year.

If they turn up under-prepared expecting an easy win, they could get rolled… it could be as simple as that. Not many teams will lose two games to the Roosters this season… it would be very costly.

The History: Played 40; Knights 17, Roosters 21, drawn 2. The Roosters got the jump on the Knights earlier this season with a 12-10 victory at the SFS continuing a tit-for-tat between the clubs. It has now been eight straight games of trading wins and losses, which should make Knights’ fans smile – it’s your turn for a win!

But don’t get too cocky just yet – the Roosters have won 10 of 19 games against the Knights at Ausgrid Stadium, with two games drawn. And the tricolours have in fact won their past six games in the steel city.

It’s clear one team’s streak appears likely to be broken, but which one?

Conclusion: We have tried to give the Roosters a decent go in these previews all year. Reached into the back pocket and found some excuse to give them another chance. But we’re done – at least for a while. They just haven’t shown any form to suggest they will ever snap out of this funk so it’s the home side all the way.

The Knights know this is a game they need to win, and a full house to ‘stick it’ to old coach Brian Smith will help get them home.

Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Adam Devcich; Touch Judges – Steve Carrall & David Munro; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.